Household waste behaviours in London - Phase I

Resource Recovery Forum (RRF)
Start date:
May 2001
December 2001

London households produced 3.5 million tonnes of waste in 1999/2000, which is equivalent to each person throwing away more than seven times their own weight in rubbish each year. At a time when only 9% of London household waste was recycled, Brook Lyndhurst was commissioned to investigate householders’ attitudes and behaviours to waste and recycling.


At a time where a small body of evidence existed on the subject, the aim of the research was to explore households’ attitudes to waste and the environment, how dealing with waste fitted within their household routines, and what they claimed to recycle.

The two key research questions investigated were:

  • What assumptions, attitudes and beliefs underpin existing waste management behaviour by householders?
  • What sorts of incentives and disincentives – fiscal, financial, regulatory, moral or otherwise – could bring about changes in household waste behaviour in London?


  • Literature review drawing on academic and survey findings on waste behaviour; academic and practice reviews of waste charging schemes; recycling plans and promotional material from the Boroughs; studies of environmental psychology and economic behaviour; consumer behaviour and psychology research.
  • Focus groups with different socio-economic groups: Six two-hour focus groups explored key themes that emerged from the literature review and tried to unpick some of the headline findings from earlier quantitative surveys.
  • Quantitative survey: A representative sample of 1,009 London households took part in 10-15 minute face-to-face interviews in their homes, following a questionnaire designed to test attitudes and behavioural factors identified from the two other streams of research.
  • Analysis and reporting


  • More than half of London households are most likely doing little or no recycling at present; only one in five households regularly recycles anything other than paper and glass; and minimisation is not on the agenda in most households.
  • A majority – two-thirds of households – indicate that they could do more recycling, if provided with the right kind of help. Turning these good intentions into action will clearly be key to delivering more effective waste recovery.
  • A particularly difficult truth to face up to is that there is a resolute minority that refuses to recycle – amongst all social classes and age groups, but represented more strongly amongst ‘socially excluded’ households.
  • However, another important point to acknowledge is that, because of the way services are organised, recycling is made easiest for those who already have the greatest inclination to recycle – broadly middle class and older households - and hardest for those with the weakest motivation.
  • The most important barrier, however, is undoubtedly the widespread perception that recycling (and minimisation) is difficult – meaning difficult to fit into my life rather than difficult to use in practice.
  • Making recycling more convenient will therefore be a primary requirement if recycling targets are to be met – including more kerbside provision and near home bring banks.
  • Involving the customers (households) in debate about what provision is right for them will also be an important component of delivering services people want to use.
  • People will need to be persuaded that recycling and minimisation are ‘normal’ things to do, not just a ‘good’ thing.
  • Policy makers at local and London levels are well placed to smooth the required transformation in behaviour, including: co-ordinating and advertising the message; representing Londoners views on packaging to producers; partnering the waste industry to overcome barriers on the ground; and generally to provide an arena for the exchange of best practice and experience.

 N.B. The research was designed and analysed by Brook Lyndhurst, and fieldwork was conducted by MORI (now Ipsos MORI).

  • Household waste behaviours in London – phase II

    Following the success of the phase I project Brook Lyndhurst was again commissioned by RRF to further investigate attitudes and behaviours to waste management as seen through the eyes of London household customers, rather than necessarily what may be desirable or practicable for service providers.

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